My 3D artifact Odyssey: Introduction to MSU LEADR

Last semester I began a quest to create 3D renditions of some of our artifacts and display them ever so eloquently on the CAP website. As mentioned in my previous posts, I used 123D Catch, a free photogrammetry application that can be used right on your smartphone. My first couple attempts were mildly successful but for some reason, my last several attempts at creating 3D images were a #fail. So I decided to investigate the bountiful resources that MSU has to offer and everyone pointed me to LEADR, or the Lab for the Education and Advancement in Digital Research.

LEADR, located on the first floor of Old Horticulture , is a recent addition to campus and seeks to help students create digital and web based products for their research. With a long list of equipment, personnel, and resources, this is the perfect place to design innovative and dynamic elements for digital representations of your work.   LEADR is focused on the fields that are typically slow to develop digitally competency such as History and Anthropology.  LEADR then, isn’t just focused on the product, but helping you learn the technology as well as the significance of digital humanities. So someone like me can go in there with my vision of the final product and they can teach me how to achieve it

So, last week I took my less-than-stellar 3D renditions to LEADR and they helped me develop a plan to construct relevant 3D models that can be viewed on the CAP website. Their first piece of advice was to re-scan the artifacts with their lab equipment. They suggested that while 123D Catch is pretty practical and useful, it may not be able to obtain the detail that I am looking for. Also, the editing available through 123D Catch may be a bit clunky for my novice hands and that LEADR software was a bit more user friendly. 

Another feature of LEADR is that some of their equipment is available for checkout! I am particularly interested in the hand held 3D scanner that will allow me to scan larger objects in the CAP lab. This hopefully will produce better quality images than the ones I took with my smartphone.

Lastly, one of the best features of LEADR is that they actually print 3D renditions at low or no cost to students! Now Kate and I plan to print 3D renditions of our projectile points for me to take to our UMASS Cultural Landscapes and Digital Values conference presentation. This will make a great addition to our discussion on pre-historic land use and cultural heritage on campus.

Well, hopefully this short post informed you of yet another resource on campus as well as another way to incorporate digital archaeology and now 3D printing into your work. I can’t wait to post about the next installment on this Odyssey of 3D images and archaeological research!

Introduction to Archaeology Blogs

There are hundreds of archaeology blogs, lists of active blogs are compiled (, individual blog posts are collected (, and RSS feeds are inundated. But if you’re new to anthropology, or specifically archaeology blogging, where’s a good place to start? I thought I’d share some information regarding a few of the archaeology themed blogs I have in my RSS feed.

Society for Historical Archaeology

The SHA blog covers a number of diverse topics, but the thing to focus on are their blog series. Throughout the year they focus on specific themes and events, such as the current membership series will allows current SHA members to share their thoughts on the SHA, as well as their experiences in historical archaeology. They also continued their #TechWeek tradition, highlighting technology use by practicing archaeologists. This series allows members to share new and emerging technological methodology with the larger membership group, many of whom may not be as familiar with the technology in use today.

Middle Savagery

Middle Savagery is written by Dr. Colleen Morgan, who is currently the EUROTAST Marie Curie Research Fellow at the University of York. Middle Savagery was started in 2004 (10 years of publishing is a long time in the blog-o-sphere) and covers topics relating to Dr. Morgan’s research on “building archaeological narratives with digital media”, as well as current topics of discussion in the field. She is also a contributor to the Punk Archaeology book I previously reviewed.

Savage Minds

Although Savage Minds bills itself as a group blog that writes about sociocultural anthropology, the topics are often applicable to archaeology. They are currently on the tail end of their Fall Writers series where a guest post is published every Monday. It is viewed as a place to initiate conversation about writing, and to critically analyze the how, why, and what of anthropological writing.

Drunk Archaeology Podcast

Drunk Archaeology is a very new podcast, that currently has two episode available for download. They are attempting to take the casual, rowdy nature of a group of archaeologist at the bar, and present it to a larger audience while covering topics like looting/illicit trade and the archaeology of Pompeii. Although some of the language could be considered NSFW, if you’ve got a good sense of humor and love archaeology take a listen.

Electric Archaeology

Electric Archaeology is written by Dr. Shawn Graham, who is currently an associate professor of humanities at Carleton University. The blog focuses on his interest in digital media as a teaching tool, and his current research in history and archaeology.


If any of these blogs interest you, I also recommend following the authors on Twitter.

Campus Archaeology & Social Media: What We’ve Learned Over the Past Seven Years

UntitledSince its official beginnings in 2007, social media has played an important role in the management of and education about cultural heritage on campus. Social media is part of a larger multifaceted communication plan that has been developed as part of this program for multiple reasons, and is not simply a tool for public engagement. Over the last seven years, we’ve changed, updated, and maintained a social media presence that has been pivotal in our success as a small group in a large university. At the Midwest Historical Archaeology Conference on September 28, 2014- I had the opportunity to present on why our social media presence has been successful and how we have used it. Here, I want to share some of the ways we’ve creatively used social media, and the things that we’ve learned over the last seven years.

Whether its on Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, Flickr, YouTube, or other social media, we have used social media to accomplish four primary goals:

  • Engagement with our stakeholders, including MSU students, staff and faculty, as well as the broader public and MSU alumni
    • We share  updates about fieldwork, we invite people to come watch our excavations, and we share information about what we’ve found and how we’ve interpreted it.
    • This provides the public with knowledge that their shared Spartan heritage is being protected, gives them new information about this heritage, and it reveals the process of archaeology, improving the transparency of the work that we do and making it more accessible.
  • Communication and collaboration with the broader archaeological communities and groups around the world
    • Our work isn’t just for the local community- it is part of the larger public archaeology being conducted around the world!
    • We use social media to talk with other archaeologists about the work they are doing, and we also use this network to get help identifying artifacts, finding resources to aid in interpretation, and learning about new tools we can use.
  • Opportunity for graduate and undergraduate students to gain digital and public engagement skills
    • As our world is increasingly online, it is important for our students to learn about digital tools and how to use them as an archaeologist. We provide an opportunity for our students to learn how to use social media and talk with diverse audiences.
  • Maintain a digital record of our work that can easily be accessed from any computer
    • By keeping digital records of the work we are doing, we can access photos, data, reports, and more from the different social media tools we use. Flickr maintains a photo record, YouTube has a video record, our blog has information about past interpretations, and Storify has records of the Twitter feeds from different events.

After seven years of using social media in this fashion, we’ve learned a number of lessons that will be helpful for those looking to improve their own program’s social media presence.

  • Use a wide variety of social media and digital tools: there isn’t one perfect tool that will allow you to reach everyone and engage with all the different groups. There are different audiences using different tools, which means that you need to find a range of tools that works for you. Often, we post similar things on Twitter and Facebook, because there are different groups reading them.
  • Be flexible and try new things: new types of tools and software are being released almost every day, so you cannot be wedded to one type of approach or a set of tools. We are constantly on the lookout for new ways to engage and collaborate online. Its important to look for what new ways people are using to communicate with one another, and be willing to take up new tools and abandon the old if it no longer serves its purpose.
  • Keep track of analytics: analytics tell you how many hits you are getting, how many people are looking at the site, what posts or tweets are the most engaged with, and more. From this, you can better adjust and maintain the success of your social media. Almost all social media have analytics tools that will help you see what is getting the most attention, and what needs to be changed.

If you’d like to learn more, Dr. Goldstein will be leading a webinar about this topic!

Webinar: Campus Archaeology’s Social Media Approach

Through the Society for American Archaeology

Led by Dr. Lynne Goldstein

Tentatively scheduled: December 10, 2 pm (Eastern)

Look for SAA announcement!


3-D Artifacts and Digital Archaeology: A Match Made in the Clouds??

     Greetings and happy Fall 2014! This summer I was fortunate to participate in Dr. Goldstein’s Cultural Heritage management class which introduced me to a wide range of topics in creating long terms plans for the promotion, conservation, and preservation of sites across the globe. I decided to bring these skills to CAP this year and create a project that can help promote, conserve, and preserve some of our CAP artifacts. Thus the idea to create 3-D scans of some of our artifacts was born!

     For this project, I plan to create 3-D images that can be manipulated through space and accessed for free. I will choose artifacts that highlight interesting elements from our fieldwork thus far. Whether I seek the technology to manipulate the image within the Blog, links to outside websites, or create links to user-friendly, 3-D capable .PDFs is still in the works. Nonetheless, the goal is to link our digital visitors to 3-D images of artifacts linked to specific sites for an integrated archaeology-heritage experience, without forcing you to join us in the MSU snow drifts!

     3-D scanning is pretty prominent in archaeology and has been useful for making large and remote repositories accessible to the public DAACS (Digital Archaeological

DAACS 3-D image artifact scan

DAACS 3-D image artifact scan

Archive of Comparative Slavery) scanned 3-D images of Afro-Caribbean ceramics that are for the most part inaccessible to people concerned with cultural heritage issues. Their goal was to add another dimension to connecting their ever-expanding repository of Atlantic World data to the public. DAACS used the popular yet expensive NEXTEngine HD scanner for their project. The finished 3-D image requires users to download specific software to view the finished product. While there are more expensive and less expensive techniques, this way allows users to manipulate the artifact in free space which can be very helpful for grasping the full 3-D image. The final product however, is rather lacking. There is no color and the textures look the same for each artifact. Hopefully, this is a work in progress and more detailed images are on the way. 

     Right here on campus, MATRIX  in collaboration with AFRICOM and the Smithsonian among others, started the Gorée Island Archaeological Digital Repository project to create 3-D images of some of the artifacts from Gorée Island, a Senegalese embarkation point during the TransAtlantic Slave Trade. The project uses a portable and inexpensive process called stereophotogrammetry that can create 3-D representations via the average smart phone. Therefore the information and technology is shared with Senegalese archaeologists who can create these images, with relatively few resources, and begin their own projects.  Ultimately, these images will be free to access through the web. The digital repository of Gorée Island artifacts can be shared among archaeologist, Senegalese communities, as well as African Diaspora cultural heritage workers world-wide. This can help bridge some gaps between archaeology and descendant communities and the histories the two create.

     While 3-D scanning seems to be a good resolution for cultural heritage management issues such as artifact handling, dissemination, and storage, there are several challenges that we sill have to overcome. Regardless of the price of the equipment or software, the process requires human labor which can take up to hours or even days to have a completed 3-D image.  Also pubic creation of 3-D image is still growing so it may be difficult to find reasonable ways to embed the final images on blogs or website; therefore requiring secondary software that may be unavailable to the average visitor. Also, if the object representation is just a grayish blob, void of any other sensory experience, what does it actually achieve in terms of cultural heritage?

Blair's 3-D object image

Blair’s 3-D object image

Ultimately, archaeologists and cultural heritage workers must keep our end goals in mind: what do we want to do with the scan? 3-D print it for classrooms or displays?Display images in 3-D space on websites or apps such as msu.seum? Who should have access to the files and at what cost? These questions have a variety of answers and will need to be addressed on a case by case basis. On the other hand archaeologist Paul Mullins reminds us that the benefits of 3-D scanning artifacts exceed practical connections such as access. 3-D images can help us document artifacts as well as re-visualize them… drawing our eye to elements that we may have missed with our rote necessity to assign form/function and then it store away (Mullins 2014). Therefore challenging archaeologists to reframe our basic assumptions about visual observations, especially in the digital realm.

     3-D imaging is a useful technology that can address both our short-term fieldwork goals and long-term curation and dissemination goals. Producing 3-D images of CAP artifacts can create another connection between archaeology and the MSU Community. Who knows what 3-D reproductions can lead to of alumni memorabilia, increased digital collaboration with other campus archaeology programs, or cool additions to MSU Second LIfe! The possibilities are endless.

     Stay tuned for my next blog posts that provide step by step instructions for creating your own 3-D images such as the one below and our next steps in creating 3-D images of some of our artifacts!

Mullins, Paul. 2014. “More Real than Real: Re-Visualizing the Digital Artifact.” Archaeology and Material Culture. Online

Archaeology 101: GIS

This year my Campus Archaeology Program project is going to be incorporating information from recent Field School’s into the pre-existing GIS map made of the Campus. This will include mapping Shovel Test Pit and excavation location and detail information. The ultimate goal of this project is to integrate all the previously gathered data obtained during CAP excavations and Field Schools to determine the predictability of finding artifacts at specific locations on campus.

GIS stands for Geographic Information System and works as a means of storing, analyzing, and displaying digitized data in a spatially meaningful way. This means that a wide variety of data can be mapped spatially including cartographic information and statistical information. This allows maps to be developed not only in a two dimensional way with street and building information, but also three dimensionally with elevation and topographic information. Statistics can also be incorporated into this as well, for example, allowing mapping of different demographics.

Raster and Vector Model

Data is put into digital form through two main types of data storage, raster and vectors. A raster is a pixel. The data is stored is rows and columns of cells. Each cell, or pixel, is assigned a value that could be anything from elevation, temperature, land use, etc. All these pixels come together to form a larger image. The value of storing data in raster cells is that is allows data to be displayed continuously, for example, elevation models are best displayed as a raster model because it allows for discreet continuous changes in elevation to be shown.

Vectors are a way of displaying data in three different types. Points, which allow for representation objects that require only a single point reference. Another data illustration that vectors allow for are lines, which allow for information such as roads, rivers, and topographic lines to be displayed one-dimensionally. The final type of data display is polygons, which allow for two-dimensional image depiction. Vector is usually seen in more in illustrating roads, lakes, sites, and other information in polygons.

When we use GIS at Campus Archaeology, we use both raster and vector layers. For aerial photos or elevation models we use vector data because it creates pictures. For information about the campus itself and our sites we create vector data. By combining the two we can create a model of campus that we can analyze.